The Fruits of Their LaborApr 01, 2022 ● By Tina-Tien Nguyen
At long last, spring has finally sprung in North Texas.
As groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted (apparently accurately) in early February, winter did indeed stick around a bit longer this year – evidenced by not one, but two cold snaps that month. Many wondered whether we’d see a repeat of 2021’s “Snowmageddon,” which enveloped the state for days and wreaked havoc on lawns, bushes and other landscape elements.
By now, it seems just about everyone is itching to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and warmer temperatures (if not the seasonal allergies) that spring typically brings.
A favorite activity this time of year is, of course, gardening. Whether you’re a novice gardener or have the greenest thumb in the neighborhood, there is something satisfying about turning over dark, damp dirt and filling the earth with tiny seeds, blooming buds and verdant shrubs. (Pro tip: Gardening is also an excellent way to celebrate Earth Day on April 22.)
Whether you’re considering the addition of a tree or a simple hedge in the front yard, or a complete overhaul of your backyard landscape, you may be pondering a visit soon to a nursery or garden center in search of some inspiration as well as the plants and tools you’ll need to get started.
Frisco STYLE reached out to Shades of Green Nursey + Landscape and Cristina’s Stone & Garden Center to learn about their lengthy histories in the community. For decades, these family owned-and-operated businesses have kept Frisco gardening enthusiasts (as well as commercial landscapers and contractors) well supplied with potting soil, perennials, pottery pieces and plenty of advice about how to beautify and maintain their outdoor spaces.
Shades of Green Nursery & Landscape
Shades of Green Nursery + Landscape is a Collin County institution that opened in 1979. Its current 7-acre facility on Coit Road, which opened in 1999, includes a plant nursery and gift shop as well as an array of pottery pieces and garden décor. Customers can also secure landscaping services here. Over the decades, its staff has provided countless people with gardening and landscaping guidance.
Shades of Green was founded by Dallas native Jeff McCauley, a graduate of Texas A&M University who holds a degree in horticulture. When he founded the nursery, he recognized that the area’s population was poised to boom and knew there would be a local demand for plants and trees.
While McCauley continues to work at Shades of Green providing landscaping services, these days the hands-on, day-to-day operational duties are largely managed by his son-in-law, Jarratt Calvert, who holds the title of operations manager. McCauley’s daughter, Rebecca (Jarratt’s wife), is the office manager. The couple has two young children, and Jarratt says he would like for them to one day become involved in the family business. “That’s my long-term goal and prayer. How cool would that be?”
Jarratt Calvert has always had a passion for gardening and agriculture. “I grew up on a farm. … Both of my grandfathers were farmers.”
As Frisco continues to grow, he says, “We are kind of losing a little bit of nature, so our goal is to have people slow down, take a deep breath and maybe dig into the dirt a little bit. … It will make everybody’s day better just to garden.”
A wide variety of native and drought-tolerant plants – including shrubs, trees, succulents, herbs, fruits and vegetables, annuals and perennials – are available at Shades of Green, which also sells mulch, soil, compost, fertilizers and pesticides to help home gardeners properly construct and maintain their lawns and outdoor spaces.
The business specializes in plant varieties that are native to North Texas, which “really are important because they’ve been in the area way longer than we have and they’ve been adapted to thrive in the exact climate that this area provides – soil, rainfall and sunlight,” he says.
Also, he adds, “Not only is drought-tolerant (landscaping) low maintenance,” it can also “save you money on a water bill” and may eliminate the need to replace plants that don’t survive North Texas’ summer heat or occasional winter freeze. “Overall, it’s going to just be better long term for the environment.”
As residents of Collin County themselves, he and McCauley know through firsthand experience which varieties of trees, plants and grasses tend to do well in the region – and which do not. Calvert says McCauley’s yard at home serves as a sort of test garden for all of the plants available at the nursery. “We don’t sell every type of plant that’s out there, but the ones we (do) sell, we know that they are going to do great,” he says.
The pandemic did little to slow business at Shades of Green. In fact, during the lockdown of 2020, many customers decided to renovate their yards and gardens and visited the stunning facility, which boasts a spring-fed creek that recycles water into the nursery’s plants. There’s also a rustic barn, a seasonal pumpkin patch and a 200-year-old cottonwood tree.
“We are a different nursery because we are like a park. We have seven acres of nature with very little concrete, and you can’t find that within 10 square miles of here,” Calvert says. “It’s kind of hard to find that anywhere … a facility that has a spring-fed creek where ducks are swimming and frogs (are) crawling around. We even have bees onsite that are pollinating the flowers.”
On Saturdays in the spring and fall, Shades of Green hosts clinics to educate gardening novices and enthusiasts on a variety of subjects, such as how to plant and grow vegetables. Also, “We like to do things for schools because we would like to raise the next generation of gardeners,” Calvert says. “We want to get kids excited about gardening – not just the adults.”
Shades of Green is preparing this month to open the first phase of its second location in Celina, north of Frisco. It will include three greenhouses that are set to serve as the facility’s main retail space until the second phase of the facility opens in 2025.
Calvert says he is determined to “continue making sure that we have our family business as the main criteria, and that we are looking after our staff. … If we have a great environment and great culture here on the team, we are going to have a great outlook for our customers. Most of all, I want for all the people who are interested in gardening to feel like they have a safe place to come talk to us, make mistakes, experiment with us. Let’s figure out how to get you a green thumb.”
Cristina's Stone & Garden Center
The Wilson family has been associated with Cristina’s Stone and Garden Center in Frisco for 15 years, but only took over full ownership and management of the place in 2019.
These days, it is helmed by siblings Parker, Makena and Brianna Wilson.
Having a family business “can be stressful at times,” Makena Wilson says, “but it’s nice to know that everything gets resolved very quickly, too … because I can call one of my siblings and (ask), ‘Hey, this is happening. What should I do?’ and the problem is immediately taken care of.”
Two additional Cristina’s locations are in Dallas. However, the Frisco store, which boasts a rock yard, is the only one that also sells gravel and stones. It also has bulk materials such as mulch, topsoil, bedding soil, masonry sand and decomposed granite available for purchase. This has made it a popular place, particularly among contractors.
“With a couple of rock yards closing around here, I feel like we are trying to expand our selection just to help with people not having to drive all the way out to Lewisville (or) McKinney just to get some stones,” Makena says.
It doesn’t matter whether a Cristina’s customer needs several tons of gravel or a single stone. “You can literally buy one little pebble if that’s all you need,” Brianna Wilson says.
The Wilson siblings each play an important role in the business. Brianna works at the Dallas locations. Makena manages the Frisco location. She says her father began growing flowers more than four decades ago in Pottsboro, north of Frisco, to supply his landscaping business before eventually opening a full-service nursery.
In the 1990s, the siblings’ mother (and business namesake), Cristina, got involved. Son Parker now oversees the business’ growing operation at the family’s farm in Pottsboro. (Cristina’s grows the majority of the plants and flowers that it sells.)
“We try to stay very competitive with our pricing, and that makes it easier for us because we are our own supplier,” Brianna explains.
Supplying their own products also helps keep the nursery well-stocked. “It’s farm to store literally within the same day,” Makena says.
Cristina’s carries a variety of native and seasonal plants, shrubs and trees. It also has statuary and fountains. Four sizable greenhouses are visible from Preston Road.
“We have good-quality plants,” Brianna says, explaining that the business reviews the quality of its offerings annually.
“We are constantly changing seeds and growing processes to ensure the plants we sell will last and look beautiful all season long,” Makena explains.
The business also has potting services for customers who may bring their own vessels to the store and have them filled with a customized selection of plants. “You just tell us the plants that you want and what kind of sun that you have,” Brianna says, and she and Makena will select the perfect plants. The cost is determined by the size of the pot and the contents with which it is filled.
While Cristina’s also offers landscaping services, it invites customers who are performing their own landscaping work to present photos of their yards as well as their design and plant preferences to the staff members, who can offer some guidance and advice, if needed.
The Wilson sisters say what they most enjoy about working at the nursery is being able take in the scenery and appreciate the nature that fills Cristina’s. It is also what helps keep their passion and appreciation for gardening alive.
“If I walk outside and I see the garden looking nice, it just makes me feel like it’s going to be a great day,” Makena says. “Even walking through the greenhouses, everything feels so good and lively. It just makes me feel so fresh to be around the plants.”
She also enjoys seeing her customers happy. “Customers come back and are so excited to show us pictures of their backyard. It just makes me feel good to know that we did something for someone.”
Brianna says she hopes to keep the family business going well into the future by someday passing it down to her young daughter. “That would be nice to see her working here,” she says, “but ultimately I just want my daughter to be able to shop at Cristina’s when she has a house, you know, in like 20 years.”
Tina-Tien Nguyen is a freelance writer. When not working, she likes to play guitar, write songs, meditate and do yoga.